Chinese health officials investigating Wuhan pneumonia cases amid SARS rumours

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Seven were in serious condition and the others were in stable condition, officials in Hong Kong said on Thursday.

The government emphasized that Hong Kong had not received any Wuhan-related severe pneumonia cases. A total of five patients have been hospitalized in Hong Kong since December with similar symptoms, two of whom have been discharged, the authority said.

Singapore asked doctors to look out for suspected cases of pneumonia among people who have recently returned from Wuhan.

Tony Ko Pat-sing, chief executive of the Hospital Authority, said three people were admitted to Princess Margaret Hospital, Tuen Mun Hospital and Alice Ho Miu Ling Nethersole Hospital as suspected cases, but their fevers had already gone, and two were sent home.

A team of experts from the National Health Commission is in Wuhan to carry out tests, state broadcaster CCTV said.

Clean-up efforts at a seafood market where some victims were vendors have been completed, the city officials said, adding that no obvious human-to-human transmission had been seen and no medical staff had been infected.

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Several people were arrested for circulating fake news online about the viral spread of pneumonia, provincial authorities said, adding that rumors on social media alleging that there had been an outbreak of SARS are untrue, and no person-to-person transmission has been found so far.

"The cause of the current outbreak is not clear, and it can not be concluded that it is the SARS virus as rumored online", the state newspaper People's Daily said on microblog Weibo.

All of the patients have been isolated and their close contacts are under medical observation, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said. Most of the patients worked in a seafood wholesale market, the commission said in a separate statement. As of 5pm on Friday, the commission has identified 44 cases and revealed that the cases were compatible with viral pneumonia. "We can not confirm it is what's being spread online, that it is SARS virus".

The World Health Organization said it was aware of the reports, is monitoring the situation and is in contact with the Chinese government about it.

The virus, which infected more than 8,000 people around the world, is expected to have originated in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, according to WHO.

At least 30 people have been quarantined in China after they were struck down by a mysterious flu-like virus of "unknown origin", sparking fears of a return of the dreaded SARS epidemic. The semi-autonomous territory reported 1,755 SARS cases between 2002 and 2003, among which 299 died, and the region's tourism and services industries suffered a heavy blow as a result of the epidemic.

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